In his latest Catholic Church reform ahead of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has made divorce – or a nullity of marriages, as it is regarded by Catholics – free and easier to achieve in the church.
In one of his two apostolic letters, motu proprio, Latin for “by the Pope’s own initiative”, released on Tuesday, Francis said the process should be free, except for a nominal fee for administrative costs, and should be completed within 45 days.
The 78-year-old also eliminated a second review by a cleric before a marriage can be nullified, which is the tradition of the Catholic Church before this reform.
The third major change was giving bishops the ability to fast-track and grant the annulments themselves in certain circumstances, for example when spousal abuse or an extramarital affair has occurred.
According to Vatican Radio, the church does not recognise divorce but believes that marriage is forever. However, if a separation is necessary, Catholics must have their marriage annulled with evidence that it was flawed from the outset.
“We are not strictly talking then, about a legal process that leads to the ‘annulment’ of a marriage, as though the act of the church court were one of nullification,” Cardinal Coccopalmerio, who addressed the press, said.
“Nullity is different from annulment. The nullity of a marriage is absolutely different from decreeing the annulment of a marriage.”
“We all hope that this reform of the Code of Canon Law will bring with it the fruit the Holy Father desires, and that many pastors and faithful desire with him as well.”
The pope, who maintained the indissolubility of the marriage bond,, said: “Charity and mercy demand that the church, as mother, be close to her children who consider themselves separated,” adding that the sole aim of the church is salvation of souls.
The reforms become part of Catholic canon law on December 8, the beginning of the pope-declared Year of Mercy.